Caregiving is joyful, and the journey brings love, laughter and fulfillment. But it also comes with its fair share of challenges and responsibilities. With the demanding nature of raising children, or acting in any type of caregiving role, it’s easy to forget our own mental health along the way.
Discover why it’s important for parents and caregivers to prioritize their mental health and self-care, and find effective ways to break negative cycles so parents can better support their children and create a healthy family environment.
Is your child or family struggling with their mental health? KVC can help. Learn more about our mental health therapy services.
The Importance of Mental Health and Self-Care Practices for Caregivers
Caregiving in any capacity encompasses a wide range of emotions, from overwhelming joy to moments of uncertainty and stress. Parents often face societal pressure to prioritize their children’s wellbeing above their own. This pressure can especially multiply if a child in your care struggles with their mental health. All of this can make it feel impossible to take care of yourself.
However, it is essential to acknowledge that parents have emotional needs and deserve care and support too. Caregivers should keep in mind that self-care is not selfish. Rather, it’s a necessary aspect of responsible parenting. By prioritizing mental health, caregivers can develop the emotional resilience needed to navigate these challenges. Engaging in activities that bring joy, practicing mindfulness, setting boundaries and seeking social support can help parents recharge their emotional batteries and provide the best care possible.
Be a Role Model for Children
Children learn by observing behavior. So if you think taking care of your own mental health is selfish, think again. Prioritizing your mental health shows children how to do the same! Why? Most often, parents are the focal point of learning.
“You can’t only teach through your words, you have to teach through your actions as well,” says Amanda Shank, Therapist and Supervisor with KVC West Virginia. “When prioritizing mental health and self-care, parents teach their children valuable lessons about self-worth, emotional wellbeing and resilience.” By demonstrating healthy coping strategies and self-compassion, parents are equipping their children with the tools necessary to navigate life’s challenges in a healthy and balanced way.
When prioritizing mental health and self-care, parents teach their children valuable lessons about self-worth, emotional wellbeing and resilience.
Mental Health Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Today, there’s pressure for parents to achieve more and do their very best, going above and beyond all the time. It’s, well, exhausting. Shank notices that the standard for parents today is to “Work as if you don’t have kids, and parent as if you don’t work.” But this often leaves caregivers feeling stuck in a position where they’re not doing either one to the best of their ability.
When caregivers get into a cycle where they push the boundaries, over-commit and overextend themselves, burnout occurs. That’s not a sustainable model for the long run, and caregivers need routines with a healthier balance. Although it’s never easy, many parents and caregivers have found that the secret to successful caregiving lies in the following practices.
1. Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care means a lot of different things to different people. Many jump straight to images of bubble baths and comfortably reading in a corner, but it’s so much more than that. Self-care is all about finding activities that speak to you and rejuvenate your mind, body and soul. Making these activities a non-negotiable part of your routine will help to reduce stress, increase energy levels and improve your overall wellness.
Self-care can have physical, intellectual, social, spiritual and emotional aspects. Often, self-care is dependent on what you need most at the moment. After a week full of caring for a toddler, coffee with a friend might bring joy. After a week of busy work meetings, solitary yoga may do the trick. Even incorporating a small, daily gratitude practice into your routine can have a positive impact. Be open to flexible definitions of what self-care looks like.
2. Set Boundaries
Selflessness is often considered a hallmark of parenting. But establishing healthy boundaries is crucial to achieving better mental wellbeing. Learn to say “no” when you’re stretched too thin, to delegate responsibilities and to ask for help when needed. This protects your own mental health and teaches your children the importance of respecting personal limits. Boundaries can help you prevent burnout and resentment.
Setting behavior boundaries with children is crucial for their development and for your wellbeing. Establishing clear expectations and limits helps children understand what is acceptable and what is not. This not only contributes to a more harmonious family environment but also enhances children’s social and emotional skills.
Consistent boundaries also reduce the stress and anxiety caregivers often experience when dealing with challenging behaviors. As you rely on pre-established boundaries, children know what’s expected of them and also know what the consequences are for not meeting those expectations. This can lead to improved mental health and stronger parent-child relationships. Setting boundaries is an essential aspect of effective parenting that benefits both children and their caregivers.
3. Connect with Loved Ones & Build Supportive Connections
Caregiving looks different for everyone! Sharing parenting responsibilities with a spouse or partner, co-parenting with someone who isn’t a partner, caregiving on your own, foster parenting, kinship care… The list goes on! However, the need for strong, supportive connections applies to caregivers of all kinds. As we often say here at KVC, we all need connection.
If you’re parenting alongside a spouse or partner, maintaining a strong connection with that person is essential for your wellbeing and the stability of your family. Regular communication, date nights or shared activities that strengthen your bond can fill up your cup and help recharge your energy. Working as a team and supporting each other’s mental health is a shared responsibility.
If you’re caregiving on your own, or co-parenting with someone who isn’t your partner, camaraderie is equally important. Intentionally connecting with people who support you is a great way to make space for your own mental health! Even having a listening ear can make a transformational impact.
4. Seek Support
Parenthood can be an emotionally demanding journey, and it’s natural for parents to face various challenges and stressors. Seeking support, whether through therapy, counseling, or joining support groups, provides a safe and non-judgmental space for parents to address their concerns, gain valuable coping strategies, and build resilience. By prioritizing their mental health, caregivers can better navigate the complexities of raising children and foster a healthier family environment. This proactive approach not only benefits parents but also sets a positive example for their children, emphasizing the importance and bravery of seeking help when needed.
Parents and caregivers can also intentionally seek support from their communities, friends, or extended family. Establishing a support network enables parents to share their experiences, gain valuable insights and find comfort in knowing they are not alone. Surrounding themselves with understanding and empathetic individuals helps parents gain awareness of their needs, formulate steps to break any negative cycles and maintain their mental wellbeing.
5. Break Negative Cycles of Poor Self-Care and Mental Health Wellness
When caregivers’ mental wellbeing is depleted, they may struggle to find joy in life, experiencing heightened emotional outbursts and increased isolation. Recognizing these signs is crucial, as it allows caregivers to develop awareness of their current thought patterns and behaviors.
“When you know better, you have to do better,” Shank says. “But one thing you have to remember is that there’s no one right way to do this.” Shank gives her advice on breaking cycles, below:
- Do a self-exploration of values: What matters most, and how can you live this out?
- Ask yourself important questions and answer honestly: Why is this so important to me?
- Recognize any learned behaviors (even those picked up from childhood) that aren’t serving you: How did these behaviors come to life for you, and what can you do to shift into a healthier behavior?
- Adjust current behaviors, thoughts and feelings to reflect the learned habits: What practices can you put into place to make a change?
Prioritize Parent and Caregiver Mental Health
Prioritizing mental health care and practicing self-care is essential for parents to create a nurturing environment for their children. By acknowledging their own emotional needs, seeking help when necessary and engaging in self-care activities, parents can raise resilient and emotionally healthy children.
Self-study is beneficial, but breaking cycles might take the help of mental health professionals through individual, group or family therapies. KVC’s child, family and adult mental health therapy services can help. It’s a great opportunity for families to establish healthier, more functional relationships. Call your local KVC West Virginia office to learn more.